Some history about Annapurna:
“this area was opened to foreign trekkers in 1977 after the disputes between CIA backed Khampa guerrillas operating from the area into Tibet, and the local populace and Nepal army were settled. The original trek started from the market town of Dhumre situated at the Kathmandu – Pokhara highway and ended in Pokhara, and took about 23 days to complete. Road construction started in early 1980s both from Dhumre to the north and from Pokhara to the west and then up the Kali Gandaki valley. The road has now reached Chamje on the Marsyangdi river valley and Muktinath on the Kali Gandaki side. Of the trek’s original 23 days, only 5 walking days of the trek are now without a motor road. Since 2011, companies in Muktinath and Jomsom rent out mountain bikes to tourists. As the road sees very little traffic, and one can ride downhill (dirt road and/or single track) from Muktinath to Tatopani and descend almost 3000 meters in 2–3 days.”
Nepal Mountain Guide Team. Annapurna circuit Trekking / Annapurna Round Trekking / Guide / Cost / Itinerary / Best time go / Spring and Autumn fixed departure 2018. August 8, 2018. http://www.nepalguideinfo.com/blog/annapurna-circuit-trekking-annapurna-round-trekking-guide-cost-itinerary-best-time-go-spring-and-autumn-fixed-departure-2017/
As our journey continues through Annapurna some great stories in the upcoming days…
This was the longest and hardest day of the trek. Luckily we were able to prepare and build up our strength and durability over the days prior without much distress. In fact, there really was no distress; it was all fun, exciting and shanti shanti.
We ate breakfast, paid our bill and prepared for some more hiking! In total, lunch, dinner and breakfast at the Snowboat came out to ₹1150/$10.40/ €8.80, including the free room for the night. She also gifted each of us a bag of delicious dried apricots, a sweet and bitter local treat, perfect for snacking en route to Muktinath, 3800 meters above sea level. Somewhere not too far from leaving Kagbeni amidst the 360 degree backdrop of roaring dry mountains, we lost our way from the trail. We ended up hiking on the side of a cliff, approximately 180 meters above the riverbed. This was scary and challenging as there were no trees to hang onto in case we would slip from the loose sand and rocks. Every 2-3 meters there were deep drop offs that we needed to cross over carefully without slipping and falling through. This was very dangerous and risky without the proper equipment while carrying our backpacks. Paola was doubtful to proceed, feeling that we had moved away from the marked trail, while Melissa was certain there would be a way through, and so she sped up in front of us to check it out. I was in the middle of the two, literally and figuratively, “mediating” the situation. I was also trying to understand – how the bloody hell- we lost our way since I was using maps.me and it had been a great resource so far. Melissa disappeared ahead of us to I don’t know where, while I was moving slowly over the cliff thinking “Oh my God, this is fucking dangerous!” At the same time, Paola was up further back, waiting to decide on what to do before moving forward. She did not think this was the way and that we needed to go back. After about 20 minutes, thankfully, Melissa reappeared. As we were all standing in different points on the cliff, we were trying to communicate with each other over the distance. Although we had different opinions of what should happen next, thankfully we were able to come together, by instilling *trust* in each other that we believed we were going to find our way past the cliff. I believed the trail would be there on the other side, somewhere, convinced it would take us back into the mountains but there was just no way to be absolutely certain. We had to trust that we would find our way and that together we would be successful. Eventually the narrow winding death path along the cliff, led to a stream, which guided us further across the mountainside, and to our delight, led us back into the mountains. THANK GOD.
The view opened back up to the towering mountains that momentarily lost their grip on our attention as we were walking the tightrope of death by cliff. Looking up over 600 meters to the top of the mountain, we saw a subtle print in more slippery sand and rocks that appeared like it could be a trail leading all the way up. Our mission was clear; at least we were going uphill!
Melissa made it up fast and determined, she waited for us at the top. Paola worked her way step by step, taking small breaks, enjoying the views and progress. I had to take a pee break before beginning the ascension and was left alone among the cactus, wind and space.
I was the last one to make it up, but it was a celebration when we reunited at the top – alive, intact and doing well.
We found a road very near to where we had hiked up to the top, and in the middle of this dry and remote landscape, we found a spray painted sign of brave acid riders. It instantly made me think of the movie “The Doors” starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the 60s band, The Doors of Perception. In particular, there is a scene in the movie where the band members go to the middle of the desert and trip together on Peyote. This same harsh, atmosphere reminded me of it.
We continued hiking under the burning sun for another 1.5 hours, arriving to a little town called Khimkhar. Hungry, thirsty, and tired, we were eager to find a little place to take a break. It wasn’t before another 15 minutes of walking that we met with our destiny, passing several homes with German engineered solar panels.
A serendipitous encounter ensued; on the side of the road, was a red and blue brick house called Hotel Sweet Dream. We couldn’t think of a better more fitting place so we turned in for a meal and an afternoon nap.
Ready, set, here we go, for the last portion of the trek. Passing a few more towns on the way, this was an unforgettable sight when we reached the last town before Muktinath, where the sun would no longer shine its rays on our path.
Is this the seat straight to heaven, or how would you describe it?
It was around 5:30 in the afternoon when we arrived over the flowery fields just below the town by Muktinath Himal. These fields were not as lulling as the sunny poppy fields before the jeweled green towers from the Wizard of Oz. They were more like the dark side version; a permanent shadow casted over the fields, and the town in the distance, like the sun had never come to visit.
It evoked an eerie feeling like a scene out of the science fiction art film, Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier. We were hoping it was not the end of the world, we only just arrived! The mighty Himalayas were much closer than we had ever witnessed them, the temperature was the coldest yet (10C/50F), and the flower thorns pricked my legs as we trekked across the fields coming closer to the town.
After crossing over, we mustered our last bit of energy to climb up the hill to the town. As we made it to the top of the road, there was no movement, no one in sight. Just in front of us, was an enormous modern looking building, under construction, sticking out like it really did not belong to the landscape. Suddenly, I heard some noise coming from one end, there was one construction worker maneuvering a heavy machine with cement.
“The Bob Marley Hotel, that’s the place you need to visit”
was the affirmation we kept receiving from several trekkers over the journey. We had no other plans and with our bags and tired legs, we were ready to find somewhere to settle for the night. Just on the opposite end of this enormous modern mistake, we found the main road to the town. From the sudden cold, dark shadowy thorn fields, was a place with life and movement.
Farmers and their donkeys walking by, vendors with small tables set up with their souvenirs and yak scarves, as well as small groups of Tibetan men and women walking and talking just under a whisper.
We located the Bob Marley Hotel and were able to get a room with three beds, located conveniently next to the showers – my my, what a shower; the hot water was in abundance and came out directly from the showerhead – pure luxury – yet I have come to love my hot bucket showers as well. The stonewall and stone flooring was also amazing for my feet after the full day trek. After three luxurious showers, we made our way upstairs to the restaurant which had a large selection of food– Indian, Tibetan, Italian, Chinese, and American. I ordered the Italian Pasta a la Arrabbiata with yak cheese. It was absolutely delicious and very well prepared. Dinner and breakfast including tea came out to ₹1150/$16.00/ €14.00. Although our room was free, this was the most expensive of all the places we stayed on the trek and also our final destination.
Muktinath is a pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. Spread across the town on the periphery, you will be able to appreciate Buddhist monuments in the form of large statues of Shakyamuni Buddha, a Buddhist monastery, as well as a Hindu site, Muktinath Temple.
As you make your way up towards the temple from the town, the stairs provide an opportunity for purification. I believe there are 108 steps but don’t quote me on that. Surely you can still set an intention and purify your karma, it’s all in your mind anyway, isn’t it? In Buddhism they believe in the imprints of the mind as related to past and future actions (karma). Thus, as you walk up the stairs approaching Shakyamuni Buddha’s statue, bring to your mind the things you have regretted in the past, offer them up and release them from your mind and future karma.
While in the temple, we visited the Hindu side and I watched in amazement how young and old Indian men would undress into their underwear, and run under a row of 20 freezing water faucets and then submerge themselves completely into an ice cold pool of water for ritual! Afterwards we made our way over the Shakyamuni Buddha’s statue for homage, prayer and the incredible views of the land; the Annapurnas ahead of us, at an altitude of 3800 meters above sea level.
Time escapes you when you are immersed into what you are doing and we reached our last day of the trek. We needed to catch a morning bus from Muktinath to Jomson and then switch buses from Jomson to Pokhara. Had I not been on a time crunch to get back to Kathmandu to fly back to India, I would very strongly recommend trekking all the way back to Tatopani, where we began. The road is in such terrible conditions and at several points (especially between Kopchepani and Marpha) unbearable.
It also doesn’t make sense, if you have the time, just enjoy the turning and changing beautiful landscape, trekking back down, at your leisure. Nevertheless, if you do need to make the trip on a time crunch, I would recommend flying out of Jomson to Pokhara or Thamel before getting on another bus, seriously, I will not repeat that bus experience in future. In our case, we took the bus from Muktinath to Jomson and switched onto another bus to Pokhara. The bus in Jomson left at noon and we arrived to Pokhara at midnight (157.5km distance between Jomson and Pokhara)
That is all; I hope it was as good for you as it was for me! But seriously, what I really hope is that this inspires you, to get out there, sooner than later, find joy and reconnect to the wonder of this beautiful world.
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